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Trip Report Chicago and Indy Family Trip!

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My husband always like to go somewhere “tropical” on our vacations, so you can imagine the reaction I got when I told him we’d be going to Chicago and Indianapolis for our next family vacation. The reason being, my cousin would be getting married. He’s also my last cousin to get married, and as I explained to my husband it was a time in which the whole family would be together, and I’d much rather make the trip for a happy occasion, than a sad one. So, off we set, my husband, myself, and our two daughters ages, four and two, for our Midwest Adventure…

Tuesday, Sept. 20th

Flew out of Seattle via Alaska Airlines non-stop to O’Hare, which was fabulous! Not only was the flight very nice, but both our kids behaved perfectly! I don’t know if the thin air was affecting them, or just being closer to heaven, but they were both angels on the plane! Landed, snatched our luggage, and weaved our way down to the Blue Line stop in O’Hare and headed for the city.

I am the official “Priceline Negotiator” in our household and had previously secured us the 4 star Hyatt Regency (which was one block off of Michigan Ave.) for just $85 a night!!! So, one huge rolling suitcase, one carry-on rolling suitcase, 4 backpacks, 2 kids, a booster seat base, and one double stroller, we made our way from the Blue Line stop to the hotel. We’re by nature walkers, but with all our luggage, egads! I thought I might just give up on the last uphill, but I knew it was a trek I’d only be making once, so I stayed the course.

Checked in and learned that we had been upgraded to a “Junior Suite” = Sweet! *Note: Prior to our arrival, I had friended them on Facebook and mentioned I had read about them on Tripadvisor (kind of put the fear of God in them so the speak). I thought being upgraded to a Junior Suite couldn’t be topped, but after we were settled in our room, we had a knock at the door. Why whoever could that be??? Oh yes, it was the hotel sending up a box a chocolatey, nutty covered toffee, thanking me for being part of their "social network family" and a card hinting about visiting Tripadvisor after our stay. Oh how I love to be bribed!!! What a great way to finish off our deep dish Lou Malnati’s Pizza (who delivered to the hotel)! End night.

Wednesday, Septeber 21st

Woke up ready to see the city! Met with our Chicago Greeter Tour Guide at the Cultural Center. Chicago offers this free service where people generously donate their time, knowledge, and love of the city to share with tourists! Loved this experience, got a lesson on the public transportation system (which we used religiously while in Chicago), toured the Cultural Center, Millenium Park, took a ride on the El Train to Wrigley Field, and back around to the beginning. After breaking off with our tour guide, we grabbed a quick lunch and covered the rest of Millenium Park, then made our way along the water and over the bridge to Navy Pier to take the kids to ride the Carousel and Giant Ferris Wheel. Enjoyed dinner at Bubba Gump’s (my husband has started to collect the pint glasses from all the Bubba Gump’s we’ve been to, and his argument is “it’s cheaper to buy the glass with the beer in it”). And, who doesn’t love a little Forrest Gump nostalgia? Walked back to the hotel to scrub our babies up and send them to bed.

Thursday, September 22nd

Had purchased a 50% off gift certificate from Living Social for a restaurant called “The Uptowner Café” just up the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo, and very happily filled our bellies to the brim here. We had the works here and it was all sooo good! Best breakfast we had in the city was here, and our Irish waitress Lynn (with accent included), was super sweet too! Trotted on down to the Zoo, and saw all the animals to the delight of us, and the children. I was so impressed by what a wonderful and well presented zoo it is, after all it’s free! Absolutely loved our time here! My husband was super excited to find an old fashioned “Mold-A-Rama” machine here, which he remembered from his childhood, and promptly forked over the $2 for a freshly molded Gorilla.

After the Zoo we made our way up to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. I was really drawn in by the free flight Butterfly Garden, which although they have many other interesting exhibits, really makes this Museum. The kids, as did we, loved seeing all the beautiful butterflies, and walking ourselves through the real life version of the “Very Hungry Catepillar.” With just enough time to spare we made our way down to the Lincoln Park Conservancy (which is free) to walk through all the various rooms of exotic and very lovely plants and flowers. Enjoyed the gorgeous area in front of the Conservatory as well!

After an extremely full day, we found our way across the street from the zoo at R.J. Grunts. My cousin (a Chicagoan) had recommended this place to us. Super great food – they claim they invented the “salad bar” which my husband had and appreciated, and my hamburger was fabulous; they actually know how to cook a burger medium rare! Super good food and atmosphere here.

Well, you’d think we’d have had a full enough day, but no. We still needed to get my husband a shirt and tie for the wedding! So, we hopped on the bus and took a ride back downtown to Macy’s to pick up a handsome outfit for my husband before finally calling it quits for the day.

Friday, September 23rd

My mom took Amtrak into the city so she could spend the day with us (she had been staying with her sister in Northwest Indiana), and so off to the Museum of Science and Industry we went. Sidebar: The last time my mom was there was a school fieldtrip she had taken. What she remembered most about it was in the “future” area of the museum they had a video phone that was connected to Tommorowland in Disneyland. She had been amazed that they could talk to someone and see them at the same time, and that man on the “phone” had told them that someday they would be able to talk just like he was doing in their own homes. (This was when my mom was still talking on “party lines” so it made quite the impression). Fast forward, and enter Skype. It still amazes my mom even today. According to my mom most everything in the museum had changed from her memory. I had initially thought the museum would be too advanced for our little ones, something the kids wouldn’t really relate to, but after getting such praise from Fodorites as well as our Bubba Gump’s waiter, I decided to add it to the itinerary. Although yes, some things were too advanced (i.e. we skipped the DNA exhibit), the museum is huge, and has more than enough experiences for all ages to enjoy. I’m glad we took the time to visit. Found my husband gleefully feeding in another $2 into another Mold-A-Rama machine for a train engine this time. He says they’re for the kids.

Since I was doing a reading in my cousin’s wedding, I had to be back for the wedding rehearsal, and my mom wanting to spend as much quality time with the kids as possible had insisted on babysitting for us for the evening, so that we could enjoy ourselves as grown-ups at the Rehearsal Dinner. We picked up a Giordano’s pizza for my mom and the kids to eat in, (which we sampled before leaving), and had a great night out together, and with family. (BTW, after tasting both, in our opinion, Lou Malnati’s is THE Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – Gino’s you’ll have to wait ‘til next time).

Saturday, September 24th

Cue the wedding bells! My cousin and his bride exchanged their vows in the very elaborate and beautiful Old St. Patrick’s Church, having my uncle (who is a Catholic Priest) officiate the services. Usually everyone would head straight to the reception, but we had about a 5 hour break in-between to fill, so after doing a quick costume change, we hit the streets for some lunch and site-seeing. Walked our way up Michigan Ave. pausing for pictures with the giant Marilyn Monroe, and ending up at Rick Bayless’ (famous chef who won Top Chef Masters) restaurant, Xoco. The best and most deliciously authentic tasting Mexican food we had had in such a looong time! Could have eaten there again and again! Went around the corner to get our frozen yogurt fix from Froyo, and made our way back to change once more before heading to the reception for a night of dinner, dancing, and being with family.

Sunday, September 25th

Picked up a rental car at Amtrak’s Union Station from Hertz, swooped by the hotel to pick up all of our luggage, and set south to Indianapolis. We had intermittent to consistent rain on the drive, but made it safely to our hotel without incident. Even though I knew I could have gotten a Priceline hotel in downtown Indy for less, I chose us to stay at the Drury in NE Indy (it is ranked as the #1 hotel in Indy on Tripadvisor). I really appreciated the free breakfast in the hotel (especially with the kids), and they also offer an evening “kick back” with free cocktails, food, etc., a free business center to use the internet, print directions, etc. and free parking, not offered of course by their downtown competition. Really awesome staff here who work at being #1!

Met up with my other cousin and her husband (who live in Indy) at their house to do some laundry, have dinner, and also have our first experience at a Texas Roadhouse. Loved their yummy rolls with honey cinnamon butter, and our main courses were an equal match.

Monday, September 26th

“Let’s Go Racing Boys…” Had our reservation for the special “Grounds Tour” (they only do this type tour a few days every month) for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and were super excited to “kiss the bricks!” The “Grounds Tour” was very cool! We went for a ride around the track, got to get out and indeed “kissed the bricks” repeatedly, got to go to the media room, press room, Victory Lane, just about everywhere you could go, they take you. They also have a small museum (mostly made up of previous Indy 500 car winners over the years), which is basically a quick walk-through. Lots of history and traditions here, and we were so glad we had the chance to experience it! R.I.P. Dan Wheldon.

Tuesday, September 27th

Well, I have to say they don’t call it the world’s largest children’s museum for nothing! The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is 5 stories high, and it was really like going to 5 separate children’s museum in one day. It is a magnificent and very well done place! The children of course had a spectacular time here! Got here just a few minutes after opening, and stayed until just a few minutes before closing, but we covered it all!

Hit the road again heading north back to Chicago to wind up our Midwest vacation, and hit more rain (really heavy at times) on the way back. I insisted upon us finding a Cracker Barrel for me to try before leaving the Midwest, and we found one before long just off the highway. I have to say I was very impressed. It inspired me to find a new and better meatloaf recipe after tasting theirs! Arrived back in Chicago (technically gaining one hour), returned the rental car, and took the Blue Line to Rosemont where we had a reservation at the 4 Star Hyatt O’Hare (for just $50 a night – thanks again Priceline). This was such a long day – good thing it was our last!

Wednesday, September 28th

Grabbed the kids still sleeping in their pajamas, and loaded them in their double stroller. Took the complimentary shuttle to the airport provided by the hotel, and enjoyed an equally pleasurable flight back home as we did coming into Chicago. Once we changed our watches back, it was official; we were home, and our Midwest Adventure was over, but wow, it may just have been a “perfect” family vacation! We all had a great time; it was a little something for everyone, and the kids stayed healthy! Hope we’re able to duplicate all the wonderful experiences and memories on our next family trip!

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